Timeliness is an important issue when it comes to homeowners’ insurance claims. As with any provision in an insurance policy, parties must ensure that they write timeliness clauses clearly so as to avoid ambiguity, which may lead to litigation. As the case below illustrates, failure to define terms such as what counts as a timely filed claim may be an issue that courts will step in to resolve. In such cases, the court will construe ambiguous provisions against the drafter and make a decision as to timeliness based on a reasonability standard in light of the totality of the circumstances of each case.
In Laquer v. Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the owner of a condo unit had an insurance policy that provided coverage for damage caused by weather-related events. The policy mandated that the insured provide the insurance company with prompt notice of a claim. A hurricane struck the area where the unit was located and, three years later, the owner notified the insurance company of the growth of mold in the unit. The insurance company denied the claim, citing the owner’s failure to provide prompt notice. The owner sued for breach of the insurance policy.
The insurance company contended that reporting a claim under an insurance policy three years after the event does not count as prompt notice under Florida law. In response, the owner argued that the determination of timely provision of notice depended on when she first knew or should have had knowledge that the unit was damaged. The owner stated that she did not have a way of learning about the mold damage for three years until right before she filed the claim with the company. The circuit court concluded, on summary judgment, that the owner failed to provide the insurance company with prompt notice, but also decided that it is up to the jury to determine if the insurance company suffered prejudice because of the late notice. The jury decided for the insurance company, and the owner appealed.
The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida heard the appeal. The Court first analyzed Florida law and stated that there was a two-step analytical process for determining if untimely notice to an insurance company should result in the denial of a claim. First, the Court has to ask whether the notice provided was timely. If not, then the Court has to analyze of the insurance company suffered prejudice stemming from the untimely nature of the notice. In this case, the Court analyzed the language of the policy and determined that it means an insured party should provide a notice of damage to the insurance company within a reasonable time in light of all the circumstances of the claim. Therefore, the Court decided that the circuit court should not have decided the issue of prompt notice on summary judgment but should have left that matter to the jury as well. Additionally, the Court determined that the issues of timeliness and prejudice must be decided together because both questions are tied to when the plaintiff’s duty to provide notice to the insurance company was triggered.
If your insurance company denied your homeowner’s insurance claim due to timeliness and you believe such denial was wrong and unreasonable, the Miami homeowner’s insurance lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire. With over 130 combined years of experience representing homeowner’s insurance clients across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence. Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights. Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald. Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.